Born, like Gaston Lenôtre, in Pont Audemer, Normandy, chef Christophe Saintagne has been running the prestigious kitchens of Alain Ducasse's three-Michelin-starred Plaza Athénée since 2010. His cooking is pure, without flourish or superfluous ingredients, and best savoured in the haute couture setting designed by Patrick Jouin.
What made you want to start your career in the kitchen?
Gourmandise! I wanted to learn to prepare all of these good things so I could eat them.
What is your philosophy in the kitchen?
The best produce at the best moment, prepared in the best way possible.
Where do you find inspiration?
I look, I touch, I smell the product and ask myself, "How would I like to eat this?"
Plaza Athénée is a place filled with history. Is your cooking influenced by this emblematic venue?
Yes. To celebrate Plaza Athénée's 100th anniversary, for example, we revisited a great classic of French cuisine, the pâté chaud de gibier, or warm game pie. We "feminised' it, making it lighter, with less fat, more vegetables... while maintaining the taste, of course!
Guests from all around the world come to Plaza Athénée. How do you adapt to such a diverse clientele?
On Montaigne Avenue, our neighbours are some of the greatest couturiers and, like them, we tailor-make creations. That means that Denis Courtiade, the restaurant's director, and I take recipes to the next level based on our guests' wishes and habits, which, for me, is the real representation of luxury, much more so than a very rare or expensive product.
What products or specialties would you like to introduce to someone coming to France for the first time?
That all depends on the season, of course! I do, however, have a special fondness for black truffles, which are the veritable signature of fine French cuisine.